Oh boy, another massively multiplayer online game. MMOs aren’t like other computer games; much like homes, nobody really has the time or money to have more than one. With half a dozen good ones already on the market, and another dozen coming online by Christmas, anyone foolhardy enough to try to bring one to consumers nowadays had better have a plan. Most new MMOs try to use a license to become a hit such as Lord of the Rings, Conan, Stargate, among many others. Others, like Guild Wars, Goonzu, and Maple Story try to wedge their way in by being cheaper. Finally, comes that rare breed that uses originality to take gamers to new worlds. EverQuest gets the mention here, with City of Heroes and precious few others.
Sword of the New World: Granado Espada obviously doesn’t have a license doing the leg work for it. Instead, it uses both of the other two tactics: being a free to download (and to play, for 20 levels) game that has more than its fair share of new ideas.
The first thing to set this game apart is the location. Breaking free of the criminally overdone “fantasy pseudo-Europe” setting, Sword takes players to the new world, circa the 17th century. Yes, there are many strong fantasy elements, and certainly a European cast to the architecture and social structure, but we’re closer to the Napoleonic Era than the Crusades, and it shows. A player sees this right away when he rolls up characters, in a family home as well decorated as Versailles. While generating a character is little more choosing name, class, and costume, the latter is when the game starts to shine, with rich clothing choices wonderfully representative of an era when beautiful textiles were no longer exclusive to the highest nobility.
Then comes the next surprise. Most MMOs let you have a single character at a time. This seems reasonable, but many such games are marred deeply by quests requiring groups of other players to finish. Sword boldly explores new territory by having players control up to 3 characters at a time (the ‘up to’ is misleading, you’ll want a full complement at all times). Thus, you’re now a walking party of adventurers, as your characters, while sharing the same last name, can be from a variety of classes. These run from the usual fare of warrior and wizardly types, to nods to the setting, with musketeers and scouts (also the healers, there are no priests or the like), among others. The multi-character play is by far the highlight of the game, as this one feature makes you able to ‘power level’ your own new characters, avoid the misery of finding a group, AND enjoy various ways to play as different characters, all in one. You also get to pick up ‘unique’ non-player characters to add to your party, although you’ll generally find your three guys to be plenty.
"The multi-character play is by far the highlight of the game..."
Play begins on a ship bound for the new world, and, I concede, the game starts to slip once you’re actually playing. It’s clear the design team doesn’t have English as a first language; much of the conversation and flavor text is tainted with expressions and syntax that no native speaker would use. At least it’s only confusing sometimes, and the game comes with ample help options to sort of nudge you along the right path. After perhaps ten minutes of tutorials, you’re more or less spat out onto the streets of a colonial town, pointed in the general direction of some quest-givers.
Quests and quest-granting follow the regrettably standardized form of NPCs loitering around with nothing better to do. One highlight though, is instead of crude text directions for locations (I’m sure you’ve been there, “go north to find Bob”…thirty minutes of frustration later, it turns out Bob is more like west than north), you actually get a MAP! The language barrier probably was the necessity that birthed this invention, but having a nice overhead map is such a joy for locating people and places that there’s no need to complain about realism.
Combat is certainly interesting, at least for a little while. While trying to control the combat moves of multiple characters simultaneously can be a tense button-pressing situation, for the most part it’s light fare. The monsters bounce around, more or less heading in your characters’ direction, while your guys blow them away or hack at them, as their class dictates. Character and monster AI is quite good (possibly made easier by the very level terrain), nobody gets caught on corners, and you abilities are automatically used with high efficiency. The AI is so good, in fact, that fighting gets boring fast. The real breakthrough MMOs need is a fun combat system, enjoyable from low to high level; it’s not here, alas, but at least they made a try.
The game design is also somewhat unique here in that many of the monsters really do move around, instead of resting in little clumps across the landscape, patiently waiting to be picked off one at a time. They also respawn quickly, as in 30 seconds or so. While this does mean there are few safe spots in the wilderness, it also brings the benefit of “AFK leveling”, where you simply park your party in a not too dangerous spot, then go do laundry or something. Later, you’ll find your guys have gained considerable experience blasting all the monsters that wandered near them during your chores.
As MMO launches go, this one was pretty smooth. Yes, there are bugs and crashes and little twitchy things that can be annoying, but for the most part everything runs well enough to enjoy. Sword may not be perfect, but the warts aren’t that big, and the download is free. The lack of popular license means only the serious gamers will know about this game, and that’s a pity, as those are the ones already involved in some other MMO. Still, if your gaming time isn’t already tied up, check out Sword, the download is free, and I bet many of the good ideas here will pop up in future MMOs (although probably not the generation coming by Christmas), even if most folks will tire of this game in a month or two.
"Sword may not be perfect, but the warts aren’t that big..."
+ Great character costuming
+ Good maps and quest directions
+ Controlling multiple characters at once
- Easy combat
- Language issues
- Cheesy world